Madeline couldn't rent Room Two, legally. The heat hadn't worked in ages and the Patels figured it was more financially sound to leave it vacant than repair it. They were right. But then Igor found Madeline. She came in late one night, paid cash for a room, and stayed three more days, paying cash each day. He could tell she was trying to be somebody else-he knew a thing or two about that. So when she asked about weekly or monthly rates, he had no problem offering her Room Two at less than half the normal rate, as long as she understood that this was to be done with cash and no records. She was most receptive.
Building codes were the least of Madeline's worries, especially regarding the law. She had an electric blanket, which was sufficient most nights, and a kerosene heater when it was really bad out. The room was unfurnished; she had an air mattress and a hot plate. She was quite familiar with kerosene heaters and hot plates growing up (how many times did the propane run out?), shady landlords, and, for that matter, living in motel rooms for awhile. It was weirdly comfortable. Which is why she'd broken Rule Number Two: Don't stay in one place more than two months.
She had been here four. She was going to stay two nights. She was passing through on her way to Atlantic City, in direct violation of Rule Number Three: Don't drive, and also Rule Number Four: Especially in an unregistered, uninsured, unreliable rust bucket older than you are. She just wanted to rest up and practice counting cards. It was about to be winter, and AC is nice and anonymous in the winter. Anonymous places are like Philadelphia and Cleveland and Milwaukee. Not New York City, or even Charlotte. And certainly not this little town. But it was so comfortable-like home, sort of. And everyone minded their own business and had their own issues. Which, actually, was how her mother got away with being such a no-account. She'd relaxed too much-and she'd found steady enough work.
It was dishwashing, at the local diner. Off the books. Rule Number Five: Be nondescript. No makeup, hair cut short, drab clothing. Dishwashing is the perfect nondescript work. Oftentimes off the books and no one is terribly surprised if you stop showing up. If at a diner, 11pm to 7am, all the better. Keep the dishes clean and no one's the wiser you've even washed them-or as the say around here, don't nobody pay you no nevermind. Except Mike, the waiter, did. Oh, no, he was not interested in her that way. He just needed a female to confide in. If Madeline handled it right, she would've handled him coldly and discouraged friendly conversation. No, actually, she'd have moved twice by now. Rule Number Six: No friendships.
Rule Number One? Don't stab anybody nearly to death. Do that and you don't need to worry about the rest of the rules. Oh, the notion of being brought to justice didn't faze Madeline. She would, in her mind, deserve whatever she got. But not for the stabbing. Bastard had it coming. She lost no sleep over that particular deed.
Mike was cool. He was good with the customers and always scraped his plates in the trash before tendering them to the dishwasher. His main subject of conversation was Angel. She was the day shift waitress. She was obsessed with making money, so naturally didn't have any. Customers sensed that and don't reward that. Mike had designs on her, for some odd reason, and Angel led him on, although she was involved with some dork. Mike went along with that, hook, line and sinker. Evidently, he was a masochist. It was very frustrating to listen to.
It's winter, it's a diner, it's a weekday, it's 1:30 AM, place is dead. Sure, there was a customer or two. Bob, he was here every night nursing coffee. Tipped well, said little. Insomniac since the wife passed last year. Bob did not know Madeline. Madeline would've gone looking for him if he didn't show one night. People you don't even know think of you, its very common.
Oh, and a couple thirty somethings in that corner back there, whispering, playing the scratch offs. So discreet! Like anyone gives a fuck what they're talking about. Then there's Nick, the cook, and Mike, the server. Broody Mike. He was a drag to be around tonight. Expressing his feelings via jukebox. "You're Beautiful", James Blunt. "Everything You Want", Vertical Horizon. "Can't Fight This Feeling", REO Speedwagon. Fucking guy! Those were perfectly good songs! Madeline put in the $5.00 necessary for her song to supersede whatever else Mike planned to murder. Skid Row, "18 and Life". I got bigger problems than you, buddy. Maybe not life in prison, but a life of this. And there would be time, quite a bit, she imagined, if she was ever picked up on whatever the warrant was. Attempted murder? That would be appropriate. Indeed she had attempted murder. No matter the victim was alive and well today and it was two years ago. Well, perhaps it did matter, Madeline suspected that the fact no serious harm came and she was far away meant no one was looking too hard. But oh yes, the crime is time.
But Madeline wasn't even going to stay inside to listen to her expensive selection. She walked out the back door, by the dumpster. Smoke break without the smoking. Rule Number Seven: No habits. Too bad Madeline habitually came out here for her hot chocolate. There was an awning and folding chairs for the smokers. View of the night sky wasn't bad, either. You could see the blue highway she lived on way off to the left. Long country road, went, Madeline believed, through five states and across the Canadian border. Immediately ahead was an empty field, maybe a square mile, and beyond that, the trailer park. It was a blustery night, but she could see the stars clearly. Cars were creeping along at fifteen miles an hour. Madeline could see the smoke rising from the trailer park, could smell the wood burning. She loved nights like these. It was a nice little regression.
When she was small, she always dreamed of living in Alaska. She dreamed of drinking cocoa in a coffee shop with brick walls. Everyone would be reading books and wearing scarves. And now, as an adult, she knew she could rent a single room in a trailer in Alaska for around $400 a month. That would be fine. Certainly the notion of living in trailers didn't offend her. But you had to clear customs twice, going through Canada. Forget it, under present circumstances. Or you could fly without doing customs, but she'd have to use her real identity for that. Not the best idea, though there was the ever so tempting possibility, pretty decent actually, that whoever might be looking for her wouldn't catch it.
She went back in. Mike had a table! Good God Almighty, at this hour? Madeline was pissed. She'd washed all the dinner dishes and all of Nick's pots. The lethargy of the job being done had already set in, and she intended not to do anything until around four when some of the breakfast early birds come in. Now she had to do five or six dishes. Not much, just enough to irritate her.
Madeline went back to the kitchen and sized up the customers from the window. Okay, a couple college-ish girls. A white girl with a pot leaf tee and glued to an iPad. And an Indian girl with a nose ring intently talking to Mike. India Indian, though a lot of the folk around here would refer to Native Americans as Indians, too. Whatever. Not law enforcement.
Nick was watching too. "Christ, what'll they get? Probably gonna get mozz sticks and quesdaillas and shit. Don't they know I got prep to do?"
Mike came back with the ticket. Two coffees and a basket of fries. Nick inquired, "The fuck, dude? Took 'em seven minutes to come up with that?" Mike replied sheepishly. "No, me and that Indian girl got to talking about the books she was carrying. Some're pretty good books.
Nick snorted. "I got me The Joy of Cooking and the Bible. Hardly read either. Who's got time?" Madeline just thought. Angel hates reading.
Mike would be stopped by the girl with the books upon delivering the fries and talked to another three minutes. And damn, was she ever draining coffee! Mike dutifully refilled it. She was smiling. Mike was picking up on none of the signals. Angel had him so distracted!
They finally left at 3:30. The pot girl clearly wanted to, and the book girl was giving up. They stopped by the bathroom on their way out.
Madeline went out the back door again. Nick was smoking. "Give me one," said Madeline. Nick passed her a cigarette and held a lit Bic toward her. "Didn't know you smoked." Madeline french inhaled and blew a ring at Nick. "I don't. Ever. Disgusting habit." She walked around to the front door. Made like she was just hanging out smoking. Just in time. The girls were leaving
"Yo!" Madeline exclaimed. They looked at her. She addressed the book girl. "Hey, uh, what's your name?"
"I'm Anne." Perplexed but not put off.
"I'm Maddy. Hey, listen. My coworker who served you. You should know something about him. He's a really decent guy. Know what else? His dog was hit by a car yesterday. The dog will be fine, but he's still kinda fucked up about it. Know what else? He's gonna be working 11-7 this Friday."
Anne blushed. "All good to know, Maddy. Thank you."
Madeline went inside. Mike was moping about. Now the jukebox was playing "Congratulations", Blue October. Bob had left. Madeline unplugged the jukebox and got in Mike's face. "You are done. That girl is coming in Friday and you are getting her number."
"Which of them?" Mike asked
"You know good and well. Dumbass! Angel's a loser. This girl likes your books. You're gonna realize someday you were spending all this time brooding over Angel when you coulda had a V8! Pursue it. Its a good idea."
Mike said he wasn't ready for thinking of another woman yet. Madeline told him he was ready now. "You are to get the number and contact her and see what she's all about. Do it. I am not to be fucked with, sir." Mike chuckled. "Well, I guess if you are so adamant."
"Try it, you'll like it. By the way, your dog got hit by a car yesterday, but he'll be okay."
Madeline clocked out at seven and drove home. She went to the office to give Igor the rent. There was a police officer in there. Drinking coffee with Igor, shooting the shit. Nothing terribly unusual about that. As Madeline walked out the door, the police officer called out, "Kaitlin."
Madeline turned around, looked at the officer, and gave a wry smile. "Yes?"
"Oh, you know Kaitlin?" The officer asked. "Well, guess someone's looking for her and I gotta pick her up on warrants. It's a big bag of shit, out of state warrants, and the other state doesn't even want her terribly bad because they don't care terribly much about what she did. Neither do I. And Igor assures me Kaitlin is a decent girl who minds her own business, and rents room two, is that right, uh..."
"Maddy, by all means. Well, Igor's a good judge of character, and Igor doesn't like his hotel in the papers, you know. Unfortunately, when I pick up Kaitlin, that'll be front page news in this sleepy town, eh? And here's the pisser, Maddy, my dear. If Kaitlin were two states west, the issuing state wouldn't even been willing to extradite. She'd be home free. Anyway, Maddy, I'm coming at 10 o'clock to arrest Kaitlin, and not a minute later. Good morning." The officer tipped his hat, walked out the door, and got in his cruiser. Igor looked at Madeline.
"Did my best, Katy." He handed back her rent money. Kaitlin walked back to Room Two and counted all her money. The old hoopty would probably not make it two tankfuls of gas before breaking down, but she'd make it go as far west as possible. And once she was west enough, she could be Kaitlin officially. Again. And then....
Well, $913 ought to put her on a plane to Anchorage.
Previous: Room One: Mel